Chastity, Fortitude, and Prudence: what do they have in common, besides sounding like old ladies shaking fingers at us? They are principles that are supposed to keep a rein on temptations, and keep us out of trouble. Having an under-supply of them should send up red flags to a conscious Conscience, even before real trouble starts. When it comes to House of Body activity, like eating and drinking, relationships, shopping for stuff, even handling hard times courageously (that's Fortitude), it seems that we need to put our heads ahead of our hearts. If we let our ears be tickled by suggestions, and don't consider consequences, we've already invited trouble. (This is why every minimalist end-of-year-decluttering list suggests unsubscribing from online advertising.)
Note that this does not mean we are never to take risks or try new things, or even to put ourselves in danger for someone else's good. What we're talking about here are matters that should be brought to the Conscience; and if we're going to violate House of Body principles like Chastity and Prudence, we'd better have better than a good reason (because Reason can always come up with a reason). There are times when other principles do come ahead of things like Prudence. The woman who anointed Jesus with perfume was imprudent; but He called it a beautiful act. O. Henry's young marrieds throw caution to the Christmas winds to buy each other their hearts' desires. Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow carouses with the men of his adopted village because it's the only way to become one with them. Townsfolk of a more respectable leaning think that he's a reprobate and not worth their notice. Obviously Conscience can be a very individual matter.
Still, it seems that these are exceptions, and we err more often by ignoring the doubtful-dirty rule.There may even be situations where we have to be more chaste, more prudent, or show more fortitude than others. I know someone whose child has nut allergies, and their family can't shop from bulk bins because of cross-contamination. Most of what's there would probably be fine, but they don't want to risk it.
How do we deal with a chronic shortage of House of Body principles? It may be as simple as saying to yourself, "No, I'm not going there" when you feel tempted to want or even look at what you don't have (and not just materially). But, says Charlotte Mason, don't forget to fill the Library of Conscience with images of those who did and didn't live out those values. Here's an example she uses in Ourselves Book II, Chapter VI, about a young woman being led astray:
"'How strange it is,' she thought that evening, 'that I should feel as if this charming afternoon's walk were somehow, not exactly wrong, but yet as if it were not right!'" (Ruth, by Mrs. Gaskell)Had Ruth been doing something sinful? No, just walking home from church with someone she thought was kind and attentive. It seems, though, that this man was carefully manipulating their meetings, amusing himself at her expense. But since she was young and innocent, how could she be expected to resist a little gentlemanly attention? According to Mrs. Gaskell, Ruth did know that something was off. She just didn't trust the little voice that said "No." And trouble, of course, followed. (I think Ruth is a human version of Jemima Puddleduck.)
Fortitude seems to stand a little apart here from Prudence, Chastity, and their close friend Temperance. What are the little attacks we need to look out for in that area? First and most obviously, the thought in our minds that it's too much, we're tired, it's time to give up. But second, a hint that maybe we are entitled to a bit of attitude and self-pity, and extra sympathy from others. Note that promoting Fortitude is not ignoring the question of why evil and suffering exist, and why some people are given incredible burdens; and it's also not (usually) a good place for others to interfere, either to scold or to enable negative behaviour. But if we let our own Conscience search for bitterness and sulking, we may be surprised at what turns up. The point is not adding to anyone's burdens by creating guilt; it's about lightening them by losing energy-draining attitudes and excuses.
Exercising Prudence, or Chastity, or Fortitude, gives us opportunities to build up character muscle by saying "No." No, I don't need to mentally re-visit that relationship, or wish for what didn't happen. No, I don't need to spend that money on myself that's planned for saving. But we also receive a gift of "Yes." Yes, I can say thank you for what I have. Yes, I can boost someone else's spirits today, because I understand what it's like to be sick or lonely. And yes, I can do this hard thing for the ones I love, and for the One I love most of all.